As in the rest of the country, our local Tories are never averse to screaming ‘dirty Lib Dem negative campaigning’ when anyone says something that’s less-than-positive about them (and those sort of comments are frequent in Colchester when they propose silly ideas like this). Of course, what’s sauce for the goose is never allowed to be sauce for the gander, and the Tories are always keen to point out that their own campaigns are as pure as the driven snow, never negative or personal. Which makes this hard to describe.

lockerclegg(The original Tweet is here, that’s a screengrab in case wiser Tory heads have it removed) Ben Locker (the person on the left in the picture) is the Tory candidate for Mile End Ward in the local elections and also a friend and regular campaigner for Will Quince, the local Tory candidate. Judging from the pictures here and here, it appears that Castle Ward Tory candidate Darius Laws, another close associate of Quince, is also involved in this little stunt, which in absolutely no way surprises me.

This is what our local Tory campaign has been reduced to – wandering around with a carboard cutout of Nick Clegg, encouraging people to believe it’s all his fault. Whatever ‘it’ is and how ‘it’ can all be Nick Clegg’s fault is a question that Ben Locker refuses to answer. It does seem an odd message to be spreading, given that the Conservatives have been the larger party in the coalition, but maybe he’s just following the logic of their attacks on the SNP to their logical conclusion? If he genuinely believes his party’s idiotic propaganda that a Labour government would have to do whatever the SNP says, maybe he thinks that’s how the last Government was run too? It’s quite clear from their local proposals that Colchester Tories have no idea how local government works, so perhaps it’s fair to assume that understanding national government is a project that’s way too complicated for them.

If the Tories want to spend their time on silly personalised negative campaign, that’s entirely up to them, but they shouldn’t expect other people to forget it, and they certainly shouldn’t start complaining when people criticise them.

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colchesternominatedThe Colchester nomination list was published about a minute after I published that last post, and it confirmed that there’d be six candidates (austerity bites with a 33% cut in the number of candidates), but also something else I’ve mentioned before.

In 2010, there were nine candidates for the constituency. Five of them haven’t returned for another go this time, but four of them have, which means we’ll have the same Liberal Democrat (Bob Russell), Conservative (Will Quince), Labour (Jordan Newell) and UKIP (John Pitts) candidates we had in 2010. (Bob Russell has added a ‘Sir’ since then, but that’s not mentioned on the list of candidates)

What this makes me wonder is whether there’s any other constituency with four candidates the same as they were in 2010? I’ll be keeping an eye out for any, but please let me know if you spot one.

After eight years, I still haven't memorised this list from the Council Chamber

After eight years, I still haven’t memorised this list from the Council Chamber

Those of you in Colchester likely already know this, but let’s make it official: I won’t be standing for re-election to Colchester Borough Council this year, so my eight years on the Council will be coming to an end in May.

It’s been an interesting and enjoyable time, but everything has to come to an end sometime, and it seems that this is the time for me and the Council Chamber to part ways. There have been various machinations going on behind the scenes and the stress from that, plus the pressure of just being a councillor (let alone the extra roles) has just been mounting over time to the point where the negatives now far outweigh the positives. It’s still enjoyable in parts, but the idea of going through the pressure of another election campaign, when I’m not sure I’d enjoy the reward – and then have to go through the whole thing again next year – isn’t appealing to me.

I can remember being told by certain people that there was no chance of me winning the first time around, because Castle ward was about to be subsumed beneath a Green wave, and then in 2011, there was no chance I’d get re-elected because of the coalition. So, just having had eight years on the Council has beaten a lot of people’s expectations, and having most of them where we’ve been leading the council and over half of them where I’ve been a member of the Cabinet wasn’t something I was expecting when I first agreed to stand.

Trust me, getting elected as a councillor right before the global economy goes into a tailspin, the country dives into a recession and austerity becomes the ruling dogma is a surefire recipe for living in interesting times. The last few years has been dominated by talking about cuts and savings and efficiencies, while laughing bitterly at anyone imagining local government is somehow profligate. There isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel, either. The party manifestos for the next Parliament all promise some mix of tax cuts, deficit eradication, further austerity and certain services protected from cuts, all of which mean local government is going to take another hammering over the next five years.

But what about localism, I hear you ask? Don’t you have all sorts of new powers to do things your way? Pause to hear a legion of councillors laughing sadly at that. Localism sounds good, especially when put through the party political spin machine, but in practice it just means we get to locally decide how much we agree with Eric Pickles on something – total or absolute. For instance, the old centrally imposed housing targets have been removed, which sounds good, but the evidence base on which councils have to decide their housing targets haven’t, so it’s a case of no longer being told from the centre that the answer is 10, but instead being give two fives and told to go away and add them up locally, and you’ll be entirely responsible for the result. After a while being caught between voters’ expectations of what the Council can do, what it can actually do, and Whitehall’s continued belief that we should just be local delivery arms for the Government can get pretty tiring.

I’m reminded of what Tony Benn said when he left the House of Commons, that now he’d have more time for politics. One of the problems of being involved in the day-to-day politics of being a councillor is that you get swamped by the process and forget the wider issues. There’s a tendency to let everything become a process story, and I think that goes some way to explaining why a lot of politicians are suckered by the cult of managerialism – you can feel that the important thing is the sheer action making of decisions, rather than what decisions actually are. One thing about doing my Masters degree has been that it’s given me the space, time and context to think about politics on a much wider scale: I like talking about big ideas and ideologies, and not being involved so much in the day-to-day of being a councillor will give me the opportunity to do that.

What this means, of course, is the coming election campaign will be the first one in about a decade that I’ve not had heavy involvement in, which gives me more time to work on my dissertation – and I’ll likely bore you with more details of that after May 7th – but also to blog about the election, and hopefully find something interesting to say. There’s still a lot to discuss politically, even if the campaign itself is likely to be little more than game playing and process stories.

I’ve still got a month left on the Council, so it’s probably a bit early for epitaphs, but it’s been fun and I’d still recommend it to people who want to have some impact on their community, even if the Council’s not quite the grand seat of power it used to be. To those who remain, and those who come after me, I can only echo the words of someone much older and wiser than me:

One day, I may come back. Yes, I may come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine.

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mphbasicA few weeks ago, I mentioned that a poll had shown 36% of people in the UK supported the idea of a basic income and promised to look in some more detail at the results when ComRes released them. Unfortunately, that slipped my mind for a while thanks to other things going on, but I’ve now found the details of the poll and a PDF file of the more detailed results, broken down by demographics.

The question asked was one of a series of Green party policies that respondents were asked if they supported or opposed (there was also a don’t know option) but the policies were presented without any party labels attached. The general question was “Do you support or oppose each of the following possible future Government policies?” with basic income posed as “Introducing a ‘Citizens Income’, giving every single person in the country £72 per week irrespective of their working status or income”. There don’t appear to be any questions before this that would have primed or influenced respondents to answer that in a certain way. There were just over 2000 respondents, which is a decent sized sample and means the margin of error for the full sample is around 2.5%. As we saw, the result here was that 36% were in favour, 40% against.

What the details of the poll give us is some information on how different demographics responded to the question, and that’s very interesting. However, we do need to be slightly sceptical of the results at this level, as they’re small sub-samples of the larger set which means the margin of error is bigger (much bigger in some cases) but I think they’re still interesting.

First up, there’s no real difference between men and women on the issue: men respond 37% in favour, 41% against, women are 35% in favour, 40% against, which are so close they’re well within the margin of error and show us nothing significant.

Where things get interesting is when we look at the breakdowns by age, which are broken into six groups:

  • 18=24 year olds are 39% in favour, 36% against (total sample 240)
  • 25-34 year olds are 50% in favour, 31% against (total sample 339)
  • 35-44 year olds are 42% in favour, 28% against (total sample 339)
  • 45-54 year olds are 41% in favour, 34% against (total sample 358)
  • 55-64 year olds are 33% in favour, 45% against (total sample 299)
  • 65+ year olds are 18% in favour, 61% against (total sample 438)
  • Again, the smaller sample sizes mean these aren’t as reliable (the margin of error is around 5 or 6%) but the trend they show is very interesting with those up to 54 having a slight tendency to be in favour of basic income, while those 55 or above tending to oppose it.

    We also see a pattern in the breakdown by social class (for those not familiar with this system of classification, some details are here). These break down like this:

  • AB social groups are 30% in favour, 51% against (total sample 539)
  • C1 social group are 35% in favour, 41% against (total sample 558)
  • C2 social group are 41% in favour, 35% against (total sample 438)
  • DE social groups are 41% in favour, 33% against (total sample 478)
  • There’s not as much variation here, but there’s still a trend for those in the ‘lower’ groups to support it more. As these groups tend to correlate with income, that indicates that those on lower incomes are more likely to support the idea of a basic income.

    A final breakdown indicates that those working in the private sector are possibly more likely to support basic income (41-35) than those in the public sector (37-37), but the sample sizes there don’t make that a very reliable result.

    I thought the original result was interesting, and this extra information confirms that. The important thing to remember here is that most people have had no information about the idea of basic income as it’s something rarely discussed in the media. However, the general idea does have support, and even seems to appeal to a plurality of younger people. We’d need some more detailed polling with a larger sample to know more, but this suggests that there could well be a receptive audience out there for basic income and arguing for it and promoting it may not be as hard as we might think.

    Now, is there anyone out there who wants to fund some more detailed polling to find out?

    (Update: Have changed image at the top of the post. As someone pointed out, a similar slogan has been used by fascists and I wasn’t comfortable with the possible implications that might be drawn from that)

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    Here’s something interesting I noticed on Twitter earlier today:


    It appears to come from a ComRes poll testing support for Green Party policies while doing some other polling on the party for ITV news. However, from what I can see, this is a poll based on the general voting population, not Green Party supporters or any other subset, but I’ll need to wait until the full data is on ComRes’s site to confirm that.

    However, for those of us who are supporters of basic income, it’s a very interesting statistic, especially as there are only 40% opposed to the idea (a further 23% are of no opinion, making the breakdown of those who expressed an opinion something like 47% in favour to 53% against). What it shows, I think, is that there is a substantial amount of people out there who are amenable to the idea of a basic income, and that it can be a policy that could get widespread support for a party that proposed it. (I’m looking here at my fellow Liberal Democrats For Basic Income)

    I’ll write some more on this when I’ve seen some more of the data behind it, but it is worth noting that the question is phrased in a very positive way for basic income, by mentioning actual cash rather than keeping it theoretical. However, that’s also a lesson to those of us who support it about how important it is to get the messaging right when promoting the idea. If only we had a basic income-supporting version of Lord Ashcroft who’d fund a series of survey questions on the issue…

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    If everything is better with flags, it will be truly awesome with even more flags

    By adding this picture, this post is now 32.9% more patriotic than it was before.

    By adding this picture, this post is now 32.9% more patriotic than it was before.

    Your starter for 10: Look at the following proposal.

    Publicly-funded infrastructure projects – including roads, flood defences and broadband cabinets – will be branded with a Union Jack plaque.

    Is this:
    A) Something a UKIP MEP pledged to their conference when he lost his notes and had to make up a policy on the spot?
    B) Actual Government policy, cooked up by Danny Alexander and Francis Maude, to ensure that neither party in the coalition can distance themselves from the stench of stupid?
    C) A Labour party proposal, launched by a grinning Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna holding a massive flag?
    D) A rejected plot from The Thick Of It, where Nicola finally snaps at Olly for proposing a policy of pure unadulterated ridiculousness?

    The correct answer is actually and depressingly B, and Danny Alexander and Francis Maude will be launching the policy today. According to Alexander, the flags will be attached to everything from “roads in Cornwall to broadband in Caithness”, both examples that make you ask ‘how?’ Will there be a plaque every few hundred metres on the road, just to remind you, and just how do you attach a plaque to broadband? Meanwhile, Maude predictably trumpets this as part of the ‘long term economic plan’, which conjures up an image of a future where unemployment will be solved by employing millions in designing, making and affixing flag plaques to things.

    Rejoice, citizens, and form an orderly queue at your local Office of Flag Attachment to receive your complimentary (and compulsory) full face flag tattoo to mark the taxpayer’s contribution to making you the person you are today.

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    Buying justice, and why democracy is about more than elections

    One thing that surprised me when I first lived in the US, and continues to stand out as an oddity to me is the election of judges. It confuses John Oliver too, leading to this segment on Last Week Tonight:

    For me, it’s a great example of an idea I’ve talked about often, that democracy is not just about having elections, and having more elections doesn’t automatically make things more democratic. Democracy is an ongoing process, not a single event, and that process needs lots of different parts to work together to ensure it succeeds.

    Electing judges is a pretty extreme example (from the land of extreme examples) but it does get to the point that judges and politicians have different roles within the democratic process, and electing judges starts to confuse the roles. Roy Moore, the Alabama judge at the start of that LWT item, has run for several political roles while serving as a judge, and that sort of confusion between the judicial and the political is common in US politics.

    The point is not to say that judges should be free from and challenge or oversight, but that within a democracy not every post needs to be appointed in the same way. Every post in a democracy is appointed in some way, the question is who does that appointment and how – elections are perhaps the most obvious way of doing it, but that doesn’t make them the best or most appropriate in all circumstances.

    We’ve seen it in Britain with Police and Crime Commissioners who were brought in to supposedly make accountability of the police more democratic than the existing system of Police Authorities because direct election, rather than appointment through other elected bodies was seen as ‘more democratic’. What we’ve ended up with, however, isn’t any better scutiny or accountability of the police, but a network of what appear to be very well paid spokespeople for the police, who now get brought out instead of the chief constable when the media need someone for a comment.

    Democracy is a complex process, and not one that’s easily solved by simply electing everyone and hoping for the best. Sadly, that’s the message we keep getting sold, where an elected mayor trumps a complete lack of democratic accountability. We’re not likely to be electing judges here, but we need to keep making the arguments for real democracy.

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